leading by example

The Perpsective appearing in the current PLoS by Paul Ehrlich has me scratching my head a bit.


I very much admire Paul. And I am particularly supportive of his efforts to make us take the issue of overpopulation seriously. But I do not understand these rants written by scientists and directed at some monolithic, intellectually underpowered “the public” failing to act on global climate change because we don’t understand (or believe) the science. I don’t see it. In my travels – I see great sensitivity to environmental concerns. Local farmer’s markets are mushrooming. More people are communting in energy efficient ways. I see people dialing down the thermostat in winter and opening windows more on warm days. Most people are willing to accept that the value of goods should reflect true prices – including the costs to the environment. Maybe they are not doing these things for the exact reason of global climate change – maybe their concerns are more local. But so what?
I can tell you that what “the public” is not seeing is scientists walking their talk. Scientists burn just as much carbon as they please – most senior scientists will tell you that they fly 100,000 + miles a year. They are happy to have houses in water- strapped areas like California or fragile ocean environments like Cape Cod. They have homes full of art, fine furniture, and energy-thirsty electronics. They live very comfortable upper-class lives. Many scientists have families – and most probably have a pet or two — all consuming what could be helping struggling families in the 3rd world. AND ALL SCIENTISTS DEPEND ON $ from the federal gov’t – often from taxes paid by the dreaded capitalist corporations (in fact many biomedical scientists would enjoy taking intellectual product to market and become dreaded capitalist company owners). Most scientists are also more than willing to take funds from Foundations – funds derived in large part by capitalist endeavors.
So we the public are waiting. When I see the international scientific community leading by example – and giving up travel, energy, and wealth – I will be more willing to listen to their hectoring. I often wonder what behavior it is exactly that they think needs to change? Doesn’t seem to be the behavior they have immediate control over – their own.